Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Cut-Throats

"The Night of the Cut-Throats" 
Written by Edward J. Lasko
Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.
Synopsis (from IMDB): A newly released ex-con returns to get revenge on the town of New Athens than sent him away, and brings a band of outlaws with him. West and Gordon are the only thing keeping them from burning the town to the ground.

Trey: Kesler in The Wild Wild West: The Series calls this a "mediocre episode" with a villain that's "small potatoes for our versatile agents." What say you, Jim?

Jim: Well...I feel the cold open with the stagecoach battle is classic Western action. It’s a perfect intro for what is admittedly one of the series most conventional western plots. At least of those we've watched. It’s interesting - as much as I am a fan of the more fantastic episodes, I’m finding I enjoy this season’s more standard Western settings and plots more than most of the stories from Season Two.

Trey: You're like Goldilocks and The Wild Wild West is the porridge.

Jim: As far as the villain Trayne played by Bradford Dillman...

Trey: Forever Lewis Dixon in Escape from the Planet of the Apes to me.

Jim: Yeah, well, Dillman is really a great classic television villain. He gives Mike Trayne an air of sophistication that is often lacking in the show’s villains; possibly on par with Michael Dunn’s Loveless.

Trey: High praise, indeed! Don't forgot Victor Buono.

Jim: Of course, him too.

Trey: I liked the fact that this episode is actually a mystery, though that isn't apparent at the outset.

Jim: I feel like this episode is one of the show's rare actual mystery episodes. It’s a change of pace I greatly appreciate.

Trey: We should also mention that Jackie Coogan is in this episode.

Jim: I like how the initial scene with Coogan (the sheriff) is shot with the cake in the foreground! Another good sequence is the battle to save the town, but some of the excitement is undercut by the fact that Trayne’s searching for the money, and the backstabbing of his various partners. 

Trey: I feel like that actually works to the scenes benefit. Had we seen the siege play out all on its own, I think the repetitive nature of if would have been much more apparent.

Jim: You may be right. The fight between Trayne and West was also impressive. Trayne gets punched through a second floor railing and falls on a table in the saloon below. My hat is off to the stunt man who pulled off that stunt. I don’t see how that fall could have been buffered in any meaningful way. That had to hurt!

Friday, June 18, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Falcon

"The Night of the Falcon" 
Written by Robert E. Kent
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
Synopsis (from IMDB): A powerful artillery shell destroys an entire town, and Denver is next if the government doesn't pay a ransom to the mysterious Falcon. West and Gordon race to neutralize the threat, but find the Falcon intends to auction off his weapon to highest bidding criminal organization.

Trey: This is the most James Bond episode we've had in some time: from the cultural stereotype representatives of international crime, to the Falcon's costumed guards. 

Jim:  Definitely. I had to smile at the different representatives of foreign organizations watching the destruction of Tonka Flats. It was a nice bit of camp. And speaking of Tonka Flats, it's destruction makes for one of the show's best cold openings I've ever seen. 

Is this the first time we've ever seen what the adjoining train car looks like? I don't recall ever seeing the chemistry lab Artemus uses in this episode. It's a great addition to the show that probably should've come up sooner.

Trey: I had those same thoughts. No, I don't think we've seen it before, unless it was in season one.

Jim: Ross Martin gets a lot of time to shine in this episode, from his moments in the train car lab, to the stage coach and finally at the Falcon's bidding table.

Trey: liked all the stuff Artemus got to do, but I feel like we missed some of West's acerbic one-liners in conversation with the villain. 

Jim: But did get see him zipline across a room. And we got a guest appearance by Robert Duvall. What can one really say about Robert Duvall in a green falcon helmet? Maybe this awkward choice in clothing is why Michael Corleone didn't pick him as a wartime consigliere.

Trey: That was presumably the Falcon's costume choice, not Duvall's. Unless you think he brought his own clothes to the shoot?

Jim: I'm not saying he didn't

Trey: It would have been nice to know more about the Falcon. He winds up being pretty much a cipher. He doesn't really even have much personality. 

Jim: True. I enjoyed this episode, but I think the beginning set us up for a more exciting episode than what we got. It ended up being a bit by the numbers once it really got going.

Trey:  I think you're right. While I wouldn't call it a bad episode by any stretch, it is somewhat less than the sum of its parts.

Jim: That Falcon shaped cannon is impressive, though! If Sideshow made a replica, you'd buy it.

Trey: Only in an auction with stereotypically-dressed, foreign stereotypes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Circus of Death

"The Night of the Circus of Death" 
Written by Arthur Weingarten
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis (from IMDB): When masterfully forged bills appear in circulation, West and Gordon must catch the forgers to prevent the collapse of the U.S. economy from a flood of nearly perfect counterfeit bills. The trail leads to a circus..

Trey: I feel like this episode pulls a bait and switch! "Circus of Death?" How about "Circus of Only Tangentially Related?"

Jim: True! I'm surprised as well at how little the actual Circus plays in this episode. It feels like we spend more time in the boutique! 

Trey: Or the Denver Mint.

Jim: There, too. But yeah, a better title would have been "The Night of the Funny Money." The circus was a nice change of pace, though. West versus the lion is well shot I think. I sincerely doubt that's Conrad in the cage, but the camera work does a good job of not letting on. 

Trey: It was colorful too.

Jim: True. We've commented on the show's efforts to take advantage of the new color television technology, and the circus does that, but the boutique scene at the start of this show is the best example so far.

Trey: The opening scene in the boutique is amusing.

Jim: Goodbody's spiel about dynamic numerology feels like the show is making fun of some of the sillier counter culture beliefs of the era.

Trey: Artie's return to the boutique is good too. Like several episodes this season it shows how formidable he is in his own right.

Jim:  I was a little disappointed when Artie showed up in his Mr. Gentry guise. I just seemed a bit too ordinary. But Martin had so much fun with the role that I quickly got over my disappointment.

Trey: Would it upset you if I told you this episode was historically inaccurate? The Denver Mint was an assay office until 1906. Even then, it made coins not notes.

Jim: You've ruined the entire episode for me!

Trey: I think you'll be alright.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of Montezuma's Horde

"The Night of Montezuma's Horde" 
Written by Max Ehrlich
Directed by Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: West and Gordon accompany a professor and his team and a Mexican Colonel to retrieve the lost treasure of Montezuma. The professor turns out to be a phony and his hired help a gang of criminals, but biggest danger comes from a hidden temple of surviving Aztecs.

Jim: I was looking forward to this episode because of Ray Walston, and he kills it in his first scene on the show. He's delightfully sinister with his various facial tics and holding the saw over the skull. Kudos to whoever set up this scene. This is also an exceptionally clever fake out on a show that does a lot of fake outs. 

Trey: Yeah, this episode has a lot of everything--including renowned character actor Jack Elam as a heavy. Despite this seasons reputation and being less fantastical and more straight Western, you wouldn't know it here.

Jim: A lot of action in this one, too. The fight inside--and outside--the bar is pretty spectacular, though it does feel like one of those times West forgets he has a gun! Still, as fight scenes go, this feels well choreographed for the times.

One of the reasons given for this show's cancellation was that it was too violent. Given that the majority of the violence is fisticuffs or brawls, it hardly seems to compare to the cop and detective shows that were emerging at this time. I don't know where the "too violent" label came from, but I think it's subjective, perhaps, and outright wrong.

Trey: I suspect they were cherry-picking episodes.

Jim: Anyway, Artie's solution to the lack of a willing guide is quite elegant.

Trey: Yeah, Artie has been given time to shine this whole season, so far.

Jim: I really enjoyed this one. It's quest through the desert is unlike anything we've seen on this show before. At times, it gives me a bit of a Johnny Quest or H. Rider Haggard vibe with the Aztecs and their goddess. Some great visuals in this episode too. I loved the skeleton guarded entrance, the Aztec temple and the royal treasure room.

Trey: Yeah, the only failing is budgetary. The Aztec's seem like they're down to about 4 guys, 2 ladies and the "goddess." And the goddess' throne room seems pretty cramped.

Jim: True. All the more reason this episode should have been extended into a really amazing Wild Wild West movie. 

Trey: Or at least better than the ones we got.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night Dr. Loveless Died

"The Night Dr. Loveless Died" 
Written by Henry Sharp
Directed by Alan Crosland Jr.
Synopsis: With Dr. Loveless apparently dead, West and Gordon race to solve the mystery of a mysterious key taken from his body that two of his former associates are fighting over.

Trey: This is the penultimate appearance of Dr. Loveless. Michael Dunn was apparently having health issues and wasn't available as much. 

Jim: The bit with the Safety Deposit boxes and duel storylines with Artie and Jim seem like next level storytelling. Artie's monologue to Triste is also quite good. Sharp really outdid themselves with this episode.

Trey: Yes, Sharp has been uneven before, but he's again on game with this script. And it's a great Artemus episode. He gets a lot to do and is portrayed as highly competent--like he could be the lead of a show if West weren't around.

Jim: There are several establishing shots featuring western towns early in this episode. It reminds me of Gunsmoke. I know we are still early in the season, but I keep thinking there was some request by CBS to give the series more of a western feel.

Trey: I think you are on the money there. Making the show more conventional and less fantastic seems to have been one of directives given Irving Moore. By the way, as I like to call out all the guest stars that were in Star Trek: Triste is played by Susan Oliver who was Vina in the original Star Trek pilot "The Cage."

Trey: Speaking of disguises, I was surprised that by the time of Liebknicht's inevitable reveal as Loveless, West appears to be caught completely off guard. He's generally rather suspicious of Loveless and his machinations, so it seems out of character for him to have totally bought the ruse.

Jim: I'll excuse West's inability to recognize Loveless by saying that Dunn does a superb job selling the Liebknicht identity. 

Trey: By the way, Liebknicht is pretty close to lieb nicht, German for "love not," roughly.

Jim: Ah ha! Nice work deciphering that name!

Trey: It's what 3 quarters of German in college will do for you.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Firebrand

"The Night of the Firebrand" 
Written by Edward J. Lasko
Directed by Michael Caffey
Synopsis: With an outlaw and his partners planning to incite Revolution in Canada, West and Gordon must stop their plans and receive a stolen supply of guns and get those weapons to a beleaguered frontier fort.

Jim: We are getting more traditional western set pieces this episode with Fort Reilly, the classic saloon and the wagon chase. That's a nice change from some earlier episodes that all seem to take place in the exact same manor house set.

Trey: This is probably the most "Western" episode we've watched. Only the hint of international intrigue sets it apart from a typical Western of the era. So far, Season 3 has been very action oriented. This episode has two chases, something we haven't really seen before. I'm almost tempted to say it seems to have higher budget, but I suspect the budget is just being spent on different things. 

Jim: Like fanciful sets and fight choreography.

Trey: Right!

Jim: Pernell Roberts makes a good villain for this episode as he comes across as both cunning and physically intimidating.

Trey: Yeah, he's a surprisingly good heavy. 

Jim: Even before the more humorous bit of dialogue between West and Gordon on the wagon, I had a sense this episode was trying to give us a more "buddy cop" feel. I actually think that's a big missing element in a number of episodes. Then again, Robert Conrad might not have pulled off such patter as well as Robert Culp.

Trey: True. We should say everything wasn't great here, though.

Jim: I raised an eyebrow at Vixen's earnest desire to help the disadvantaged getting cut off in mid-sentence. That strikes me as some CBS Old Guy pandering.

Trey: There is definitely sexism--and probably a bit of dismissal of youth movements--in that ending.

Jim: Also, pressure points? That's a rather convenient way to dispatch Vixen O'Shaughnessy. However, this tactic was all the rage in this era of pop culture, so I guess it makes sense.

Trey: West is Vulcan nerve pinching so much in this episode, but we've never seen him do that before!

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Revisiting the Wild Wild West: The Night of the Bubbling Death

"The Night of the Bubbling Death" 
Written by David Moessinger
Directed by Irving Moore
Synopsis: When the U.S. Constitution is stolen by a revolutionary, James West and Artemus Gordon are sent to a lawless region on the border with Mexico to recover it.

Trey: This is a good episode to start a season with. So spy-fi with sneaking around, gadgets and disguises. The plot is admittedly thin for an hour, but these incidents fill the time I think.

Jim: Normally, I'm not much of a fan of the "Underground Fortress," as used on this show, but the extra details put into this one make it a winner. I notice it seems to be one of the more favored episodes among fans as well, no doubt because of how West and Gordon navigate the labyrinth ending with the zipline scene over the titular Bubbling death pool. Also, The efforts to break into the hidden chamber give me a nice Mission Impossible vibe.

Trey: It isn't as weird as my favorite WWW episodes, but I think the good far outweighs the bad. It may be one of Artie's best spotlights.

Jim: It's also great Great to see Harold Gould as Freemantle here. Gould is a favorite character actor of mine from this time period, with the Hawaii Five-O "V for Vashon trilogy" being a highlight of his CBS career.

Is it me, or does this episode employ a more modern sounding soundtrack? Especially as West and Gordon are sneaking through the maze.

Trey: Oh, it's definitely got a groovier soundtrack. Sort of jazzy.

Jim: The double cross at the end was a nice surprise just when you think the episode is all wrapped up. We usually get those much sooner on the show.

Trey: I feel like the twist ending is telegraphed by Carlotta's willingness to abandon Freemantle sp quickly. It isn't West's charms! She's got a plan B.


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